Northumberland coast to feature in Channel 5 documentary about lighthouses

A new Channel 5 series exploring the history of British lighthouses and featuring an episode on the Northumberland Coast begins this Friday. Lighthouses: Building the Impossible is a three part journey along Britain’s beautiful but treacherous coastline, with presenter Rob Bell attempting to uncover the secrets of one of Britain’s most heroic feats of engineering – the rock lighthouse. Each episode is led by an iconic hard-to-reach lighthouse that reveals tales of catastrophic shipwrecks, dramatic rescues, and incredible feats of endurance and survival – with the Northumberland episode centred around the Longstone lighthouse on the Farne Islands.

Longstone, which is 5.5 miles off the coast from Seahouses, is the lighthouse from which Grace Darling carried out her famous rescue in 1838 from the wrecked steam ship ‘Forfarshire’ and became a national heroine. Presenter Bell learns more about how the rescue which made Grace a national celebrity could so easily have become an act of tragic self-sacrifice, and feels the weight of the actual boat that she took on. : Seals attacked and team of medics abused in Northumberland as series of incidents sweep the UK

Bell and the film crew were also taken out on a routine training exercise by the RNLI from the Seahouses Lifeboat Station. And on the return to the station, engineer and presenter Bell casts his eye over their state-of-the-art Shannon lifeboat. Ian Clayton of Seahouses RNLI said: “It wasn’t the best of days I believe, it was a bit ropey and uncomfortable but the film crew managed to cope okay.”

Rescues are not quite the same on the Northumberland Coast as they were in the mid-19th century, but that doesn’t make the RNLI’s work any less important. The team at the lifeboat station assist the ambulance service and Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service to get to Holy Island if there are any emergencies there, for example. Will you watch Lighthouses: Building the Impossible on Channel 5? Let us know in the comments below!

Ian continued: “Certainly in the days of Grace Darling, there were an awful lot of ships came to grief at the Farne Islands. Half the problem in those days were the vessels plying their trade up and down the coastline were powered by sails, some were paddle steamers and they didn’t have the powerful engines and modern technology.

The Seahouses Inshore Lifeboat, which is often used for rescues at Holy Island and Budle Bay

“So, without the weather forecasting that we have now, when these vessels were caught out in bad weather anywhere near the Farne Islands, they were at the mercy of the elements. They often couldn’t save themselves and ended up getting wrecked.”

Nowadays, shipwrecks are for the most part, a thing of the past, especially off Northumberland. Most of the lifeboat station’s callouts are related to the travel and leisure industry, with divers, swimmers, kayakers, and small boats sometimes getting into difficulty. Ian continued: “The tremendous rise in the tourism industry has brought many thousands of people to this coastline which has become famous as a holiday destination.

A lot of the people who come up have little or no understanding or experience of the sea and maritime conditions and can get themselves into all sorts of trouble. “For example, we’ve had a lot of people getting cut off by the tide when walking across the mudflats at Budle Bay. All we ask is that people are aware of the tide and always err on the side of caution so that they can enjoy the coastline without getting into any difficulty.”

Lighthouses: Building the Impossible airs on Channel 5 on Friday May 29 at 9pm.

The episode set in Northumberland will air on Friday May 13 at 9pm, with the first two episodes set in Cornwall and Pembrokeshire respectively.